I grew up watching Superman II on HBO with my dad and sister as many times as I could; I always thought this was the better Superman film out of the original four movies. Then the Richard Donner or director’s cut came along and, surprise, surprise, the guy who loves extras has a whole film that could be considered one big special feature and makes him appreciate it even more.
Richard Donner, who directed Superman and was the original director for Superman II, had an overall vision for the Superman movies; he actually filmed Superman and Superman II simultaneously, not back to back like we’ve seen recently with Lord of the Rings and others. Instead, Donner would film a scene for Superman on a particular day and then that same day shoot a scene for Superman II or vice-versa.
Unfortunately, he was removed as director from the sequel and never had a chance to complete Superman II as a true likeness of his vision. Decades later, an Internet fan movement calling for Donner’s version of Superman II caught the attention of Warner Brothers’ executives, who in turn gave him the studio support to complete his version of the movie.
All of the original Superman footage had been stored in England (five tons of it, according to the DVD!). It was brought to the states, catalogued and restored for Donner to do with what he wished. What we get is a different — and better — Superman II than what we’ve seen before.
Gone are most of the campy/silly lines that new director Richard Lester inserted. Donner had a majestic vision for the Superman franchise, and when he was removed, so was that idea. Among the major changes is 15 new minutes of Marlon Brando as Jor-El, Superman’s father, which adds both substance and perspective to the film. Due to budget constraints, Brando’s role in Superman II was cut, which in my opinion, left a hole in the story.
Lois’ clumsy discovery of Clark as Superman isn’t as hokey as the Lester version; in Donner’s version, she’s on to him very early in the film, and the way Clark gets out of her attempt to “unmask” him is great. What’s even better is the way she finally does discover his true identity; it’s just very smartly written and in-step with the Lois of the comics (I won’t spoil it here, you’ll have to see it for yourself). The only downside to this scene is that it’s only test footage, so not everything looks the same as the movie. But since he was removed before these scenes could be filmed, Donner did the best with what he had. At least there’s something to show and not an animated scene or just a voice-over.
Additionally, there is a never-before-seen beginning and resolution; more fight scenes with the three phantom-zone villains; a much more believable explanation of how Clark gets his powers back after giving them up for Lois/love; and alternate takes of scenes, which change the intent/purpose of the originals and certain parts of the story.